On July 21, 2021, I had the privilege of participating in the Emergency National Summit on Antisemitism hosted by the Government of Canada. Many government officials, MPs, and Jewish community organizations presented recommendations to government leaders on policies to help combat antisemitism.
The summit was led by Minister Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, and the Hon. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, and was attended by numerous politicians, community organizations, and members of the Jewish community.
For the last couple of months we have all witnessed a spike in violence and harassment – hate motivated crimes, both on social media as well as read about the physical and verbal attacks on Jews during and after the most recent conflict between Israel and the terror group Hamas.
During the Summit, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau passionately stated that every Canadian deserves to feel safe and should not fear living Jewishly and good intentions are not enough. He went on to say that ‘…antisemitism isn’t a problem for the Jewish community to solve alone. It’s up to everyone to take on this challenge.’
Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler spoke on how there is a ‘normalization and absence of outrage in the community’ and that the threat of antisemitism is toxic to democracy. He said that it begins with the Jews but doesn’t end with Jews. That Jews are demonized and have even been blamed for the pandemic. According to Mr. Cotler we need to develop a comprehensive National Action Plan that includes, but is not limited to: a need to mandate Holocaust education, a need to combat antisemitism and Holocaust distortions, enhance and further adopt IHRA, and invoke parliamentary precedence that Ottawa has already established, enhance security of our Jewish institutions, combat antisemitism by prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership at all levels, combat the proliferation of antisemitism in social media by holding platforms and individuals accountable, appreciate that Jews cannot alone combat antisemitism and that it should be a ‘constituency of actions.’ He went on to say that the words from the summit must be translated into deeds’.
Many of the presenters discussed the importance of actively promoting the adoption and implementation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism across Canada, including in provinces and municipalities, school boards, universities, law enforcement, military and other public institutions. The recommendations also included committing to a clear action plan for implementing the IHRA definition of antisemitism within and across all federal government agencies, departments and processes, for example, in procurement, human resources, guidelines for funding international development projects, etc.
Presenters also asked that Section 319 of the Criminal Code (promotion of hate) be further clarified and enforced and that Holocaust denial be added as a form of hatred under the code and to remove the requirement of the Attorney General to consent for charges under Sections 318 (advocating genocide) and 319 (promotion of hate) to facilitate quicker response by law enforcement.
Both the Prime Minister and some of the MPs announced new and increased emergency funding through the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP) will cover the costs of necessary security personnel for places of worship and other community sites targeted by hate crime. This is a fund that the Bernard Betel Centre has not applied for, but will likely in the coming months. The national summit went beyond acknowledging antisemitism – it was about advancing significant proposals to combat it.
Over the last number of months, we have seen a rise in violence, harassment and verbal threats targeted towards Jews. In the past, history has shown us that it may start with the Jews, but it definitely does not end with us. This type of violence and hate should not be tolerated in our cities, provinces, country or by society. It is up to our governments, law-makers, and community members to turn words into deeds and to commit to a more respectful, inclusive, diverse, and just community for all. As Shimon Koffler Fogel, President and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) stated, ‘too many groups are being targeted for discrimination, vitriol, and threats – especially Indigenous, Muslim, Black, and Asian communities.’ Shimon went on to say, ‘it will fall to all Canadians – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – to translate sentiment into action.’
In mid- June, as part of the Bernard Betel Centre’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, Betel’s Board of Directors launched as part of our organization’s journey a commitment to address anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion an educational session facilitated by Rivka Campbell. Rivka encouraged the Board to ask questions and be comfortably uncomfortable. She encouraged all of us to personally reflect and recognize our own personal held biases and that as an organization we need to look at all our policies and practices with a different lens. Rivka challenged all of us to acknowledge barriers and that our values as an organization must include diversity and equity procedures followed by measurable goals that hold all of us accountable.
In the coming months, we will be further discussing the Bernard Betel Centre’s development of a new strategic plan and our path for the future. Our goal is to live our organization’s values as we weave justice, diversity, equity, reconciliation, inclusion into all facets of the organization as we continue to combat anti-racism and antisemitism into everything we do.
As we continue to engage in conversation with our funders, government representatives, public health departments, and Board of Directors regarding a date for our re-opening we are being cautious and taking all efforts and precautions to protect our staff and community participants coming to the centre. We know that the majority of you would like to return to our beloved centre as soon as possible. While we do not have a date for re-opening inside programming at present, we will be sending our Betel community a survey in the next week to assist us in further understanding your comfort in coming back into the Centre and the kinds of programs and precautions you are wanting and feel comfortable with. Our ultimate goal is to keep everyone safe. In the meantime, we will continue to offer our excellent online programs through Zoom, Senior Centres Without Walls, and some outdoor programming. We ask for your understanding and patience during this time as we plan for our re-opening.
And oh, by the way did we share that we are in the process of doing a massive renovation to parts of the building from two Ontario Trillium Foundation grants and a New Horizons for Seniors Program grant we received? We hope you will love our new look!